Photo: Maris Upenieks

Thousands of immigrants attracted by a construction boom is hardly front page news – but what if the latest El Dorado is an unrecognised and embargoed republic ? While the west focuses on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, another disputed region under Russian dominance is experiencing a quiet boom in its construction sector. Despite widespread poverty among much of the local population and years of embargo – by the CIS until 2008 and by Georgia and many others now – the situation in Abkhazia is such that thousands of migrant workers are flocking to this de facto statelet. Read more

Russia’s surprise cut in its key interest rate to 15 per cent from 17 per cent on Friday was primarily a product of political pressure and may do more harm than good to Moscow’s twin aims of restraining inflation while softening the impact of an incipient recession, analysts said.

“The CBR’s (Central Bank of Russia) move will likely have quite a reverse effect on inflation,” said Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at BCS Financial Group, a Russian investment bank. “The market is already increasing pressure on the rouble which, in turn, will transform into higher – rather than lower – inflationary expectations going forward.” Read more

** FT News **

* Russia startles markets with rate cut | Russia’s central bank unexpectedly slashed its key interest rate from 17 per cent to 15 per cent on Friday

* China provinces miss GDP targets | Country’s growth fell to slowest pace in quarter of a century Read more

** FT News **

* RAF races to intercept Russian bombers | Ambassador summoned to Foreign Office after air traffic disrupted

* EU fails to agree new Russia sanctions | Foreign ministers split on response to collapse of Ukraine truce Read more

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By Jonathan Fenby of Trusted Sources

Though it offers the best path to medium-term sustainability and growth, economic reform comes with costs. It is, by its nature, disruptive and some governments may prefer to stick with stability. Their citizens may, equally, opt to stay with what they know rather than embarking on change.

What do stock investors think of the choice, one way or the other? From the performance of major emerging markets last year, it is evident how nuanced the judgment is. The reform dividend was plain for shares in some countries but its absence did not stand in the way of strong performances in other places, as the advantages of strong rule took precedence. Read more

By Hugo Swire of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

A year ago I spoke at a summit in London hosted by the Financial Times and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about how the UK could work most effectively with the ‘Pacific Alliance’. The consensus then, as it remains today, was that this economic bloc, made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, offered new opportunities for the UK to forge closer ties with Latin America for our mutual benefit. Read more

By Vladimir Tikhomirov, BCS Financial Group

Russia’s central bank faces a dilemma at its monetary policy meeting on Friday. It stated when it hiked interest rates to 17 per cent last month – to their highest levels since 2003 – that this increase would be a temporary measure to defend the rouble. However, inflation stubbornly remains high, restricting the bank’s room to manoeuver.

Indeed, recent inflation data suggests that the new interest rate could stay for much longer. According to the official statistical agency, in December Russia’s consumer price index (CPI) jumped by 2.6 per cent month-on-month which is the highest level on record since the period of mid-1990s when inflation was running at unsustainable high double-digit rates. Read more

By Russ Dallen of Caracas Capital Markets

Investing in Venezuela has always been like praying mantis love. On first acquaintance, Bolivarian Venezuela has those big, beautiful Miss Venezuela eyes and those angelic clasped praying hands inspiring trust and confidence, all backed up by glorious profits and yields. But while other investors in Venezuela – from oil companies, to airlines, to consumer products corporations – have been lured to their demise, bondholders have until the past two years been spared from most praying mantis cannibalism, and the action for bondholders has been great! Even if Venezuela has not paid shareholders of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, or the Koch brothers’ Fertinitro, Venezuela paid the bondholders handsomely! Always! But then came the first sign of trouble, from steel company Sidetur, which the Venezuela government expropriated in 2013 and then didn’t pay its bondholders (or shareholders). Read more

After a difficult two years that saw five governments, ongoing street protests and a banking crisis, Bulgaria’s politics and economy may be getting back to something approaching normality in 2015.

Blessed with greater stability – but with a significant fiscal deficit and loans to repay – the county plans to raise 6.9bn lev (€3.5bn) from bond issues this year. But investors may still be wary of the risks of a slow-growing country with a recent history of instability. Read more

Clouds hang over Russia and challenges abound in Latin America and South Africa, but emerging market (EM) consumers remain robust in Asia and are voracious almost everywhere when it comes to buying cars, smartphones and holidays, a survey of 16,000 EM consumers conducted by Nielsen, a research firm, shows.

The survey – conducted in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and South Africa for Credit Suisse – shows that differentiation between countries and products is key to understanding EM consumer trends this year, rather than generalising across emerging markets as a whole. Read more

** FT News **

* Shell earnings hit by plunging oil price | Energy group outlines plans to slash capital spending by $15bn

* China tallies Communist party suicides | Official survey into ‘unnatural deaths’ among members in wake of anti-graft campaign Read more

The Chinese banks and companies that have bankrolled Sri Lanka’s recent infrastructure boom have much to lose from the recent change of government.

To prime Sri Lanka’s economy in the aftermath of the damaging Tamil separatist war, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the outgoing president, pursued a Chinese-style growth model of massive infrastructure investments in roads, energy projects, airports and sea ports. Much of this was bankrolled by loans and grants from Chinese state-owned banks: by last May, these totalled $3.8bn, according to the Sri Lankan government (the China peoples daily and Times of India last year put the total closer to $5bn). Read more

It’s been a few years since the guns of the international currency wars fell silent, or at least until the main combatants turned most of their attention to other things.

With the strength of the dollar, however, the issue might easily re-emerge. If it does, even if the eurozone and Japan are the main initial targets, emerging markets are unlikely to be able to sit out a renewed burst of hostilities. Read more

** FT News **

* Isis sets deadline for hostage exchange | Jordan told to swap captive for Japanese hostage by sunset or its pilot will be killed

* Asia equities slide on Fed rates hint | Bourses across region fall after US remains on course for midyear rate rise Read more

Mayors fronting drug cartels, a union leader splurging thousands on cosmetic surgery, and a multi-million-dollar mansion reportedly gifted to the president by a federal contractor. Enrique Peña Nieto’s first two years in charge have not been short of scandals.

Peña Nieto was pitched by many as Mexico’s great reformer. Since taking office in December 2012, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politician has achieved the seemingly impossible, ushering through a string of key economic reforms with a view to boosting investment, competitiveness, and growth. Read more

Russia’s economy is heading for a deep recession this year. Brazil is stagnating and China’s dynamism is dissipating, helping to depress the prices of commodities that many developing countries produce. But in spite of such afflictions, analysts caution against thinking that a multi-year consumer bonanza in emerging markets (EM) is running out of steam.

The “biggest growth opportunity in the history of capitalism”, as McKinsey called EM consumer spending in a 2012 report, may suffer setbacks in some key markets this year, but overall the narrative is set to flourish as disinflation triggers interest rate cuts and low oil prices put more money into EM consumers’ pockets, analysts said. Read more

** FT News **

* Yahoo to spin off $40bn Alibaba stake | Marissa Mayer says split in fourth quarter of 2015 will be tax free

* Greeks rebuff EU call for more Russia sanctions | Fears growing that new ruling coalition in Athens is seeking closer ties with Moscow Read more

A year ago when the Olympic torch arrived in Sochi, many observers were warning that interest in the Russian Black Sea resort would fizzle out once the 2014 winter games were over. But that was before western sanctions and falling oil prices began weighing on the Russian economy and sending the rouble into a nosedive.

Russians no longer able to afford foreign ski holidays and chalets are now flocking to the slopes of Sochi and investing their depreciating rubles in mountain side homes built for the Olympics. For the first time Sochi has been included in the annual ranking of the world’s top twenty ski resorts by price growth for prime residences, compiled by Knight Frank, the global real estate consultancy. Read more

Maruti Suzuki led a two-track recovery in India’s car industry last year, dragging up overall sales while local competitors such as Tata Motors floundered. But new figures out on Tuesday have disappointed analysts in the festive period.

The 32 year-old brand, with a reputation for churning out reliable and affordable cars, posted net profits of Rs8.02bn ($131m) in the quarter ended December, up 18 per cent year-on-year. That’s well below an average forecast for profits of Rs9.06bn in a poll by Thomson Reuters. Read more